Just hours before Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in Phnom Penh yesterday morning, Siem Reap Provincial Court released three Thai prisoners convicted of illegally entering Cambodia, officials said.
Nhim Seila, Siem Reap provincial deputy military police chief, said he transported the three men to Phnom Penh yesterday morning, delivering them to Thai officials at a hotel at around 9 am. Mr Seila said the men had been granted a royal pardon.
The release came less than a week after state-run Thai news agency MCOT reported that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had requested that Mr Kasit help secure the freedom of the three prisoners.
Despite the apparent connection between Mr Kasit’s visit and the prisoners’ release, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that he had no information about whether the Thai Foreign Minister had approached the Cambodian government on the issue.
Ty Sovinthal, Siem Reap Provincial Court prosecutor, referred questions about why the prisoners had been released to “high officials” in Phnom Penh. “I signed this morning to release three Thai men to their homeland, due to an order from high officials in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Thai nationals Sanong Vong Charoeun, 36, Lim Houngphet, 39, and Ren Sabsy, 53, were arrested in Oddar Meanchey province in August after being found 300 meters inside Cambodian territory with homemade guns. On Dec 9, they were each sentenced to 18 months in jail and fined roughly $250.
Officials at the Thai Embassy and Thai Foreign Ministry could not be reached yesterday.
Mr Kuong, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said he believed the prisoners’ release was a gesture of goodwill shown by Cambodia towards its neighbor. He said he did not know whether the government had negotiated for the reciprocal release of any Cambodian nationals incarcerated in Thailand.
Earlier in the day, Mr Hun Sen’s assistant Eang Sophalleth briefed reporters after a meeting between the premier and Mr Kasit. He said the Thai Foreign Minister had told Mr Hun Sen that Thailand was prepared to do all it could to enhance and strengthen the relationship between the two nations.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Hun Sen also met with Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha and Thai journalists.
After meeting separately with Mr Kasit yesterday morning, Mr Namhong told reporters he had raised several points with his Thai counterpart, including a request for further cooperation in dealing with the high number of Cambodian illegal migrant workers in Thailand.
He said he had also pushed for the possibility of a bilateral maritime trade zone and the opening of new border checkpoints to assist bilateral trade, and had specifically requested that Thai border officials arrested, rather than shot at, Cambodians who accidentally crossed into Thailand to cut timber.
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)